That summer was the summer the city made a law which freed all the slaves within the city limits. It was also the summer Mr. Harrison decided he was going raise up cattle. My father was raised on a cattle farm in Australia. He knew a lot about cows.
So when drovers showed up with 400 head of what they said was prime beef, my father scoffed at their skinny hides and snuffed looks. He told Mr. Harrison that it would take a lot of time to get those steers worth something. Mr. Harrison said he had a lot of time.
Magdalene was amused by them. She petted the wet noses on the calves with as much enthusiasm as if they were Temper. That summer she learned about how babies were made. She saw a bull mount a cow and it made her cry. Magdalene ran all the way back to her house and didn't come out the rest of the day.
There were still crops of cotton growing everywhere. It was still the Oleandar Plantation. Pa said the reason why he had cut the crops down to a fourth of his acreage was because he didn't want to afford the laborers. Instead of completely going into cattle he kept some crops so it would still be a plantation. Because the title plantation meant a lot in Mr. Harrison's world. I guess pa knew what he was talking about.
Along with the cattle came ranch horses, big stocky mustang looking things. None of them were as pretty or refined as the carriage horses. Instead they had smarts and a lot of them. Me and Magdalene would sit on the rail watching pa working the cows with Bronco, his new cow horse. It was probably the most brilliant thing I had ever seen. Pa said Bronco did most of the work. He'd get his head all low and snake the cows back and forth. I wanted to learn to ride like that.
A couple of drovers moved into the old slave quarters. They were the farm hands now and my father was their boss. Tad was a big man with a horse of a color I had never seen before. Her name was Jemima and she was black with white spots on her rear. Then came the brothers, Smoky and Job. They came with Darling, Monterey and Early, they said they were tamed mustangs. I believed them.
One hot summer day Magdalene asked me a question that brought out the past. We were sitting by the creek bed. She was doing her school work and I was tying up a halter for one of the foals. She slowly put the book down and looked at me.
"My mother said that your pa and ma weren't really your parents." She said it just like that. Not a question, more of a statement.
I stopped what I was doing. "They ain't. I don't know my real parents."
"How could you not know your real parents?" She asked, with a confused look.
"My mom left me when I was a baby and everyone said my dad was a drover." I answered, picking up the halter and passing it through my fingers.
"She left you?" Here forehead scrunched up.
"Yea. Nobodys ever seen her since."
"That's awful." She replied.
"No it's not." Suddenly feeling insulted.
She looked away. "What if your dad is Tad?"
I gagged. "Tad is not my dad!"
She started to laugh. I looked at her angrily. Her rosie cheeks pulled up the corner of her eyes as she rolled back into the grass. Suddenly it was funny, as if her silliness was contagious. I chuckled and then I was right beside her laughing in the grass.
"Why are we laughin?" I asked, after we had pretty much stopped.
"Tad is not your dad." She replied.
I chuckled. "No, Tad is to old."
She propped herself up. There was grass in her hair and a smear of dirty on her dress. That never bugged her. "Franky, I got to get home. It's getting late."
I got up and helped her up. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow is church." She reminded me.
I frowned. That meant she would be gone all day. "Ohh..."
"I'll see you soon enough." She said.
"Yea. I guess." I said, as she walked home.
As I walked back to the house I started to wonder where my real dad was. Was he like Job, Smoky or Tad? Was he working somewhere close? Did he know about me? I'd like to think he didn't. It's wrong for a dad to leave his boy.
I told my head to shut up. All this fuss in my head when I had a perfectly good pa at home. In the end I was really the lucky one.